Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to Bosworth

The drive back to Bosworth was uneventful because we have become quite expert at negotiating the motorways. However, we did inadvertently arrive at Bosworth when only 5 miles from it by an extremely circuitous route.....the only "failure" of my navigator. We kept seeing signs "Bosworth 2 miles" and after driving two miles saw another sign saying Bowsorth 3 miles and this was repeated at least about an endless road. Getting a little lost in this part of the world is no chore at all because the country lanes are so beautiful, it is hard not to just drive along for the sheer pleasure of it.
Den and Barb and Lizzie were overjoyed at our return and had lined up a series of lunches and dinners to catch up with their son, Steve and his beautiful fiancee, Deborah, their daughter Beverley and her husband, Graham. The evening with Steve and Deborah and our party of five was very pleasant and we drank two beautiful wines, a Puligny Montrachet and a St Emilion red...absolutely delicious. Our evening was a little marred by the next table of 20 who were celebrating a birthday very, very raucously and not a little drunkenly. No one was nasty but they were having a really good time and the noise eventually drove us out before coffee. We returned home for a lovel;y chat long into the night.
Bev and Graham have bought two Victorian workers' cottages on over an acre of land, complete with orchard and have spent the last several months turning these two into a lovely two storey home for has come up very well and is really lovely and rural. To cap it off they have bought four acres of pasture next door and intend to run a few sheep on it. Both are animal mad and have two lovely labradors, both huge, and four cats. The animals are like children to them as Graham's children have all long since left home and one of them has just had his own little girl.
We visited the historic site of the Battle of Bosworth where King Richard III met his demise and ended 331 years of Plantagenet rule. It was yet another beautiful day for our visit and the visitors centre was very entertaining and informative. There were locals there who were really archers who demonstrated all the old bows, the many different types of arrows, the genuine old swords and daggers as well as a mock fight between pikemen......all dressed up in replica costumes of the 15th century. Pictures will be posted when we get to Calgary. We tried on some armour and I nearly buckled under the weight of a chain mail vest!!!!
The rest of the week passed in ablur of lunches and dinners, the highlight of which for me was a lunch at a local pub that served a truly delicious shepherds' pie, peas and chips. Susan and I have gained twenty kilos between us and will use out time in New York to stem the fat flood!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Woking Mansion stay

We were quite sad to leave the genial company of Clive and the eccentric company of his wife Jean and once again our drive to "Guildford" aka Worplesden but really Woking was uneventful thanks to my first class navigator except, yet again, within sight of our goal, we thought we were lost and phoned Cousin Sue for directions. We weren't and were soon at their wonderful home set in three and a half acres of beautifully maintained gardens, lawn and woodland. Sue was very welcoming and it turned out that the two Sues got on like a house on fire. So often did I hear them cackling with laughter that I offered them parts in the next production of MacBeth. Cousin Sue managed to back her Land Rover into the painter's car in her own driveway smashing a tail light....women drivers!
Roger has done very well for himself and our accommodation was of the six star hotel variety but the most important things were the love and friendship of Cuz Sue. She and her namesake managed to shop up a small storm in Guildford and we had some tasty meals out. I was as patient as Christ's donkey while they shopped and shopped. The Sahara boutique (sale!!!) was very grateful for their patronage and Sue got her much sought after new handbag for £15 instead of USD700 (in Singapore). However, Cuz Sue like Lucifer, tempted her yet again and on Sunday, they swanned off to the factory outlets town of Bicester in Oxford which I passed up and stayed home to watch the cricket and football. A pair of Jimmy Choo shoes reduced to £330 nearly found their way into my Sue's shopping bag but my warnings and her great self-control prevented a disaster.
On Friday,we drove to Chertsey to visit my old school. Sadly for me the only intact piece of nostalgia was of the railway bridge to the playing fields which were as lovely as ever in the September sunshine. The school buildings have been sold to a Christian communityand were off limits and the rest of the school grounds have been ruined by the ugliest school buildings I have ever had the misfortune to see. Only the old ambulacrum was still there albeit refurbished. Was it Tom Wolfe who wrote "You can't go back". I was glad that I had been back but sad at the state of the place.
Food again, Cuz Sue's home cooking was very tasty but on Saturday night we visited a one Michelin star restaurant close by called Drakes. Very nice indeed, good food and with service I have never seen in Oz except at the Regent in Sydney 15 years ago. We ate out again on Sunday night after the girls' shopping trip to Bicester where Roger bought a great Bose sound system for his study. Roger has 3000 bottles in his cellar and Sue has so much food in the pantry and the fridges that I told her to invite us again along with Suzanne and Al, John and Julie and the boys and Cyn and Roel and not to buy any more food. That way, after say a month, she would actually be able to get into her pantry and Roger might be able to buy some more wine. (See later). On Monday, Sue and I trained to London to Waterloo....what a change...the we wandered over to Festival Hall and finally to the London Eye and camera time. The Eye was a pleasant experience so we continued in this vein by taking a Thames River cruise....wonderfully interesting and very relaxing. The banks of the river are of course the repository of some of the greatest historical events in London's history, plus we got a better look at "The Gherkin" where Roger has his office.
I stayed in town to meet Roger for a wine tasting at Berry's, one of the oldest wine mercahnts in London and Sue returned to Woking where she did not take up the offer of a lift home by her namesake and chose the 20 minute walk instead. The pavement is very, very narrow on this winding country road and she chose to walk on the unpaved side facing oncoming traffic. This was almost her undoing because a fox ran out of the bushes and almost bowled her over before taking off at a great rate running in front of a chasing car! All survived. Roger and I trained back quite late, he having spent another small fortune on five cases more to add to his growiing pile. I think I convinced him to auction off 1000 bottles because that would give him some room as well as return some capital to his wine fund.
Again we departed with sadness to return to Market Bosworth as we had really enjoyed our stay with Sue and Roger.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The week in Dorset flew past - Rich's birthday was marked by a magnificent lunch at the Guildhall in Poole, another seafood repast at this lovely French restaurant, commencing with local oysters and culminating in dessert with a VERY large candle for the birthday boy. Thanks to all the well-wishers who offered birthday greetings over the course of the day that made the birthday complete.
Each day featured a drive through the winding country lanes bordered with blackberries (just ripe - yum!) beyond which we glimpsed fields of cattle, then a view of the ocean, from the rugged chalk cliffs to the seaside resort of Weymouth where Sue's family spent summer holidays. One afternoon Sue & Liz braved the climb to the top of the downs and walked to the Old Harry Rocks at the edge of the chalk cliff before tramping down to the beach and back up to the house - wonderful views and really bracing wind along the top of the downs. We even ventured to the beach one morning - just a walk along the sand (for a couple of miles) and maybe dipping toes into the water. Of course, Studland beach is home to a 'naturist' section, which we had to walk through to get to the cafe! Clive is a member of the local golf club, and whilst we declined his offer to play, we ate lunch in the clubhouse overlooking the bay and Bournemouth beyond. The course is a bit hilly, but every hole has a view of the ocean. Evenings were spent poring over old photos, Clive's collection is extensive, and Richard & Clive reminiscing - 'do you remember when we...........' and 'what's the name of that boy who........' chatting as if they had never been apart.
All too soon it was time to move on, a final lunch and a fond farewell - promises for a return visit that will be easy to keep. Yet again we packed and lugged those wretched suitcases to the car, and set off for Woking and the Dyer residence, AA Route Planner in hand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sue's Uncle Dennis was kind enough to offer to lend us his '05 Volvo C60 to drive down to Studland opposite Poole in Dorset. Poole harbour is the site for the 2012 Olympic sailing races. I had some misgivings about driving on roads when I had no idea of where I was going and having observed the speed at which English drivers hare around their narrow winding lanes, I was hoping that Susan might decide to take the train which we had alrady booked and paid for. The car trip won and we could not get a refund on our ticket. Fortunately our next host Clive invited Lizzie, Susan's daughter to visit with us and we were able to exchange our ticket down for her ticket back. Clive was totally spontaneous with his invitation as soon as he heard that she was also at Uncle's house. The AA internet site here provides detailed route instructions from A to B and we printed off a copy as well as having Clive's very detailed instructions on how to traverse the last couple of miles after getting off the car ferry.
I just steered and did everything that Susan instructed. She is an excellent navigator and with Liz's sharp eyes from the back seat, we did not get lost once, although we thought we were lost three times.
Cor! These English drivers don't half drive fast....there was I on the motorway doing nearly 100mph and chaps are flying past me. Sue claims I got up to 110 but I am sure that it was parralax error as she was looking sideways at the speedo.
We arrived safely and only 15 minutes "late" after spending an amazing hour at Winchester Cathedral en route. It is a breathtaking gothic masterpiece and I was totally awestruck when we entered. Words cannot describe the magnificence of the architecture nor is it easy to comprehend how it was built in the 11th century to replace an earlier church on the same site. The sense of history was quite overwhelming.
As was Clive's welcome when we arrived at his home in a little private estate on the side of a down overlooking fields, a golf course and the magnificent panorama of Poole inner and outer harbours. He and wife Jean were out in the lane waiting for us, he dresed in shorts and a blue (his old St Alban's house colour) shirt and our old school cap. He is 6'7" plus and 20 stone so you can imagine the sight. He had a large welcome banner, a sign welcoming the 52 year school reunion, twirly multi-coloured hanging helix banner and a helium ballon. A funny and very warm welcome.
His retirement house is perfectly sited facing the West so we had sunsets to look forward to every day and the always beautiful view from the deck and living room and most importantly from our bedroom which offered even more panoramic views. Clive and I had not met for 52 years although we have been regular email correpondents for the last six years and I had been trying to get him to come and visit me in Perth. The warmth of his and Jean's welcome was touching and the piece de resistance of the evening was the meal he served us. Clive has been in the catering and restaurant business for most of his life apart from when he was a full-time property developer and he is a very, very good cook. His lobster bisque was out-of-this-world good. Five huge lobsters, langoustine, prawns and the most delicious local mussels. Quite the best meal we have had since we left Singapore.....not fair to compare it with La Ferrandaise in Paris but more enjoyable because of the company. Roel, Allan, Sue and Cynnie, not to mention John and Julie would have cried with pleasure to eat was that good! Andf of course he provided a magnum of Lanson to wash it down with. A good time was had by all.
Sunday 13th was of course my 70th birthday and I was touched to awaken to a bunch of cards and presents. Clive had given me an antique fruit penknife complete with silver sixpence between the blade and the "sheath" so as never to cut the bonds of friendship. I was truly touched. Susan had already given me my present, a magnificent Tissot chronograph that I am wearing now and she also came up with my favourite marzipan chocs for the day.
The 12th was spent touring around, driven by Clive, the many, many beauty spots in the area, always with woods, green fields, harbours and sea to delight the eye and the spirit. We had a lovely lunch and in the evening Clive produced his second masterpiece......local racks of lamb. I reckon that John or Allan on their own would have finished both racks by themselves. I have never had such good lamb, perfectly cooked in a mint sauce paste, the lightest pink with wonderful tenderness and flavour.....once again unfair to compare with the French lamb I ate at La Ferrandaise but every bit its equal in flavour and texture. Birthday news to come.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Old Dart

We've been in Blighty for a week now, beginning in Market Bosworth with Den & Barb, who were kind enough to pick us up from the airport - and it's so welcoming after all those anonymous arrivals and fights for a taxi, to be met by family. Doubly kind as they are already playing host to my daughter Liz.
Market Bosworth is a beautiful village with historic significance (battle of Bosworth Field, 15th century War of the Roses). Many of the buildings of the time are still in use, including a 14th century Norman church. And of course the PUBS! Den must be slipping 'cos it took us at least 2 hours to hit the first one, a swift pint in the 'King Bill' before dinner. Another round of eating has begun, too, between visits to local restaurants - notably the 'pie&wine' night at the Black Horse - and Barb's home cooking, weight loss isn't going to happen anytime soon. We are getting at least some exercise, though, as everything in the village is a walk away, and it's such an enjoyable walk.
On Tuesday we went to Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of the bard, and visited the cottages and walked along the river. The guide at Anne Hathaway's cottage was most entertaining, and we had a lesson in language and the origin of terms such as 'sideboard' and 'upper crust'. The gardens are another delight - visitors are invited to taste the fruit growing in the orchard and we all felt we could sit for hours in the tranquility of an English country garden.
Liz was determined to have a day's shopping 'mother&daughter', so Sue & Liz headed to The Bullring, leaving Richard home to cook dinner. The Bullring has changed beyond all recognition, and is now a multi-level modern shopping precinct spanning both sides of the road. Gone is the fresh market with the game-sellers and fishmongers of my childhood - no hare and pheasant complete with head and feet, no cockles and whelks and jellied eel.............. quite a disappointment. Girls will rise to any occasion, however, and we enjoyed the day, returning with Krispy Kreme donuts to follow the fab curry Rich had waiting for us. We spent the next day walking the village, looking at the sites, including the lovely old Norman church and graveyard. Den & Barb braved (!) Rich's curry for dinner and really enjoyed it.
It's delightful weather here - bright, sunny, warm days that lend themselves to relaxing in Den & Barb's lovely back garden. Many a cup of tea & glass of wine have been shared with them, and our pictures can't do justice to the setting or the friendship.
Friday sees us off to the south coast to visit Clive Gill, an old school friend from Richard's days at Chertsey. Thanks to Den's generous loan of the car, we have cancelled the train tickets and will make a day trip of it (promise to drive at least CLOSE to the speed limit!)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

ok - so shoot me!

yes, I know we promised to write regularly & keep this up to date, but we are truly doing just so many things that it's really difficult. Almost 2 weeks have passed and we haven't told you anything!
We caught the train with Vi & Robert William from Chalon to Paris via Lyon, a relatively comfortable and problem-free trip, to the apartment on Rue Edmond Roger in the 15th arondissment in Paris. The apartment was charming and comfortable, with local shops & bakeries and a Metro station only a few minutes walk. On Monday we had a 'day off', did some grocery shopping, walked around the neighbourhood and had a beer in a local cafe as we watched the world walk past. Vi cooked curry for dinner, a most welcome change from the fare on the boat.
Tuesday saw us out early and on the train to Versaille courtesy of the ParisPass, which included bus and rail travel plus entry to museums and monuments across the city. Despite a cold and rainy day we had a lovely time and came home in a state of 'Rococco overload' - I think you need many visits to see and appreciate all of the Palace, so much art, gilt and marble in one place. And of course it really illustrates the great class divide in France in the days of Louis XIV. Tonight Vi felt like a rest, so Robert joined us for a trip to the Latin Quarter in search of dinner. There was really too much choice, and every pavement cafe and brasserie has a hawker in the street touting for business - not until we were seated did we realise the 'fondue speciality' restaurant we picked was actually GREEK! And BAD Greek at that - oh, well.
What a day Wednesday turned out to be - we started out to see the Louvre, intending to visit the Jardins de Luxemburg briefly and have lunch beforehand. For lunch we had selected a restaurant, 'Le Ferrandaise' from an article in the Australian Financial Review, close to the Luxemburg. Well the gardens are so lovely - clean, pretty, colourful - and peaceful despite being well-used - that we sat and had coffee and wrote postcards and talked together for far longer than we intended. Then we went to lunch, and what a meal it was - in keeping with many French cafes it offered a 3-course set price option, which we took, and enjoyed every mouthful. As the AFR article said, lunch is a leisurely affaire in Paris, and 3.30 rolled around so quickly, leaving us too little time for the Louvre. Instead I wandered off to the Tuilleries, another beautifully kept garden close to the Seine, walking there along the banks, looking at the street vendors and the old buildings. Almost forgot Wednesday was the night we had tickets to Moulin Rouge, so quick dash to the Metro and off to a great show. (Surprisingly good meal and wine, too). I know it's all about the girls, but the other acts were very entertaining, a ventriloquist, a juggler and a pair of acrobats.
Ok, so Thursday we started out to see the Louvre, but after our late night at the Moulin Rouge we didn't get up in time, so a lazy day was had by all. The four of us decided on buses rather than trains to visit Sacre Coeur, the elegant church on the hill overlooking the whole of Paris - spectacular views, graceful architecture and a busker doing VERY bad Paul Simon. Richard really appreciated the hundreds of steps up to the cathedral, and Vi & Sue enjoyed the designer shops on the Avenue Montaigne and the Gallerie Lafayette. Lunch at the Food Hall in Gallerie Lafayette - delicious Serano ham & chorizo at a Spanish tapas place. Then down to the Eiffel Tower - HUGE queues, so we took a cruise on the river around the Ile de Paris and the many bridges. Back to the Eiffel Tower and slightly smaller queues, but as night fell the wind rose and the intrepid travellers.....................piked it & went home!
Right, Friday is here and we are BLOODY WELL GOING TO THE LOUVRE! But first we had to go to the post office and send home several kilos of surplus clothing and assorted tat. As we left the post office the heavens opened - it actually RAINED! So of course we did the Parisienne thing and ducked into a cafe........ Then we went to the Louvre. Yes it's worth waiting for, filled with wonders, we saw the real thing instead of prints & copies. Rembrandt, Reubens, and the most beautiful coxyx in the world above the bum of the Venus de Milo. Dinner in an Arab restaurant tonight, really multicultural, isn't it.
Saturday and the end is nigh - what can we cram into today? We really wanted to take Vi & Robert to Le Ferrandaise, so arranged to meet them after a visit to Musee d'Orsay. This was a real treat, much smaller than the Louvre but home to fabulous works by Degas, Monet, Whistler, Van Gogh, you name it. The atmosphere was much more intimate and really hard to leave, could sit for hours. Unfortunately our new favourite restaurant was closed, but a great lunch at Les Editors followed, then Vi & Sue returned to Avenue Montaigne to press noses to the windows of Dior & Chanel, whilst Robert & Richard took the scenic route back to the flat.
Sunday - pack bags, tidy flat, eat last food in fridge & catch plane to Birmingham to be greeted with open arms by Den & Barb (with Liz in tow).
This is a fantastic holiday, packed with things to do & see (and eat) but we do think of friends & loved ones and wish you could be with us to share what we are experiencing - we will try to do better with keeping you up to date & posting photos. TTFN

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Here are a few of the family shots from Singapore - the girls, the boys, the whole Kraal clan and the family choir!

at last a few photos from Singapore - a Pina Colada by the pool, and a Singapore Sling at The Raffles